Openings & Closings

The big news this week, of course, was the unveiling of Catalan's new direction once Chef Chris Shepherd leaves for good to start his own restaurant, Underbelly. Losing the chef at a chef-driven restaurant means that continuing in his broad footsteps is a daunting and foolish proposition. For that reason, Catalan will become Coppa Ristorante Italiano, with an aesthetic that owner Charles Clark told CultureMap would be "like Sophia Loren meets Louis Prima."

But just because Catalan is becoming Coppa doesn't mean that the restaurant won't still be a chef-driven one, albeit with a much stronger Italian bent. Clark and partner Grant Cooper have brought on Brandi Key as the executive chef for Coppa. Key is a longtime fixture in the Houston restaurant industry, although much of her time recently has been spent behind the scenes at Pappas R&D. She joins the limited but esteemed ranks of fellow female executive chefs Monica Pope and Jamie Zelko here in Houston, and the overall reaction so far has been one of positivity and excitement to see what Key does with such big shoes to fill.

Speaking of staff changes, burger fans were stunned to find out this week that Steve Marques is no longer with The Burger Guys. Marques was one of the co-founders of the popular west side restaurant and was just grilling burgers with former partner Jake Mazzu a few weeks ago at the final round of our Burger Bracket. In a statement to Houston Entree, the restaurant would only say that his departure was "due to unfortunate circumstances."

In actual openings and closings, Pizzeria Alto -- the sister restaurant to Ava Kitchen & Whiskey Bar -- finally opened at West Ave this week. The Schiller-Del Grande Group's latest restaurant to open in the last few years, Pizzeria Alto will -- according to the Chronicle's Greg Morago -- feature "a 2½-ton gas-fired stone oven" to turn out its pies.

Also in River Oaks, owner Lynette Hawkins has once again listened to her customers' appeals and is now offering table service during lunch at Giacomo's Cibo e Vino. The restaurant started out offering only counter service during both lunch and dinner, then switched to table service at dinner at the request of customers. Counter service is part of the charm here, frankly, and while I enjoy the table service at dinner it's also far more preferable to be able to grab a quick, casual lunch at the counter during the day. Let's hope the option remains.

Across the city, restaurants are unveiling their new spring/summer menus. Pretty much everything on Canopy's new menu looks good, especially the grilled broccolini, white Cheddar-cream orzo, cucumber-tomato salad and jalapeño-andouille gravy that accompany the buttermilk-fried pork loin. Who needs chicken-fried steak when that's an option?

At Block 7 Wine Co, the chef's own pappardelle is looking particularly summery, where the housemade pasta is topped with jumbo Gulf shrimp, light herbed butter, asparagus and pancetta. The idea of warm field pea and mushroom salad with Brussels sprout leaves under a fish of the day is equally fetching.

In Montrose, the charming little Grappino di Nino has added something equally charming to its menu: $5 half glasses of Italian wine that pair perfectly with its small bites like the Littleneck clams with pepperroncino. And at Demeris, the barbecue joint has added a new "named" dish to its menu to go along with the Big Puma and the Hoffy Burger: Baby D's Baby Back Ribs, made with a sweet and spicy sauce called "Second Generation Sauce."

Even IKEA is getting into the food game -- and that's in addition to the second-floor restaurant that serves a great cheap breakfast -- as it will expand its marketplace on May 27 to a whopping 3,000 square feet. For the sake of comparison, just the food section at IKEA will now be as large as seven of my apartments. The new offerings will include totally unpronounceable delicacies such as Kanelbullars and Äppelkaka. Try ordering that last one with a straight face. I dare you.



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